The castle of Königsberg was founded in 1255 by the knights of the Teutonic Order in the course of their expansion in the Baltic region. From 1457 onwards it was the residence of the Grand Master of the Order, and the last Grand Master was Prince Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490–1568) who - after converting to Lutheranism - created the world’s first Protestant state in 1525, the Duchy of Prussia, with Königsberg as its capital. During the 1286-1327 period the three settlements which had formed round the castle of Königsberg (Altstadt, Lobenicht and Kneiphof) were granted the status of towns. In 1724, they officially merged into the city of Königsberg..
For centuries, Königsberg was the metropolis of eastern Germany. The city played an important role in Europe’s international relations and became a meeting point of diverse historical and cultural traditions, as well as the home for people of various nationalities and religious beliefs. Thus, the Huguenot settlers (French Protestants) set up many enterprises and whole industries there. Poles, Lithuanians, English and Dutch; merchants from every European country; artisans and learned men of every nationality not only coexisted peacefully: they also respected each other and together they built up their city. Founded in 1544 as a purely Lutheran place of learning, the Albertina University of Königsberg became the center of attraction for men of science and culture from Poland and Lithuania. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the great philosopher, lived and worked here his entire life. It was in that city that the first-ever books were printed in Lithuanian.
On several occasions Königsberg found itself in the epicenter of major European conflicts: the Seven-Year War (1756-1763), the Napoleonic wars (1805-1807 and 1812-1814), the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945).
The historical center of the city with an architecture characteristic of the period was formed in the late Middle Ages. The more noteworthy and interesting sites were closely linked to the Order of Teutonic Knights, especially the castle – or Schloss - begun in 1255 and added to later, with a Gothic tower 277 ft. high and a chapel built in 1592, in which Frederick I. in 1701 and William I. in 1861 crowned themselves kings of Prussia. On Kneiphof island the Dom cathedral, a Gothic building of reddish brick, with a tower 164 ft. high begun in 1333 and restored in 1856, and the burial place of all Teutonic Order generations; it adjoined the tomb of Immanuel Kant, next to the city library, the former University building in which Kant held his lectures. Altogether, there are some 730 historical and cultural monuments in the city which up to 1939 had a population of around 350,000.
Königsberg was a beautiful, vibrant and a very prosperous city. It was a world trade center for optical lenses, and a vital shipping port for the trade in cereals, legumes, timber and flax in Northern and Eastern Europe. Large freighters were able to access its deep sea port by means of a 8 meter deep channel that started at Pillau on the Baltic. Königsberg extensive warehousing district contained some of the largest grain silos on the mainland. As a result arts and commerce flourished here. Grand merchant houses, banking offices, palaces and opera houses were erected in the city center.